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Six years after its last defeat, the BID proposal rears its head in Old Town once more

Time and time again, a group of business owners has pushed the Old Town Business Improvement District (BID) boulder up the hill, only to have it roll back down again.

Now, a group called Old Town Business is trying — again — to get the boulder to the top.

“Old Town’s oldest business organization, Old Town Business (OTB) is leading the renewed efforts to establish a business improvement service district in Old Town Alexandria,” the group said in a release. “The organization, which has been advocating and hosting programs and events that benefit the community and independent businesses for over 40 years, has been preparing a detailed plan for the business improvement service district, including the district’s boundaries, the service offerings and the governance mechanisms.”

There are multiple BIDs in Arlington and Washington, D.C. There have been repeated efforts to get a BID launched in Old Town. The most recent — and the closest to success — was in 2017, but after the proposal was met with vocal opposition, city leaders voted to send the plan back to the drawing board where it ultimately withered away.

To Old Town Business’ credit, there are some signs that this time may be different. Approval of a BID concept was slipped into American Rescue Plan Act funding and basic guidelines to put together a BID were approved at the City Council in 2022. The City Council has also seen significant turnover since 2017, with only Mayor Justin Wilson and City Council member John Chapman remaining from the original vote.

Proposed BID map (image courtesy Old Town Business)

But to get a BID approved, it still needs approval from 60% of businesses within the boundary of the proposed BID. This is, historically, where past BID efforts have floundered. Many brick-and-mortar business owners, already feeling a strain from competition against online sales, have been roiled by the idea of an additional tax.

The Old Town Business website said the new BID would be funded by a $0.10 service district tax added onto the real property tax — currently $1.11.

“For example, a parcel that has a taxable value of $700,000 that currently pays $7,770 in annual property taxes would be billed an additional $700 for a new total of $8,470,” the website said.

While the BID offers improvements such as enhancements to public spaces and activities — during the last BID campaign, many local businesses pushed back and said those are roles that groups like the city-funded Visit Alexandria should be filling. The Old Town Business website said the BID would help run events and do marketing for Old Town, among other services.

Now, Old Town Business is launching a marketing campaign for the BID to try to drum up support. According to the release:

The proposed BISD (to be named the Old Town Business – Business Improvement Service District, or OTB-BISD) aims to focus on improving the experience for employees, visitors and residents within the boundaries of the OTB-BISD and to protect and grow the economy of the OTB-BISD for the benefit of business owners, property owners and residents.

The proposed boundaries of the OTB-BISD create a limited district area running from the “river to the rails,” which would include parcels that (i) have frontage along King Street between the Potomac River and the King Street Metro; (ii) are east of Union Street, between Queen Street and Wolfe Street; (iii) have frontage on the west side of Union Street between Queen Street and Duke Street; (iv) have frontage along Diagonal Street between King Street and Duke Street or (v) have frontage along the streets which intersect with King Street, between Prince Street and Cameron Street (the north/south component of Cameron Street, at its western end, shall be considered a side street).

The group has launched a petition that can be signed by local property owners and a forum for non-property owners to offer support.

Old Town Businesses is hosting a series of outreach meetings this month, including:

  • Wednesday, Feb. 15 — In Person, 8:30-9:30 a.m.
    Lorien Hotel & Spa, 1600 King Street, Alexandria
  • Wednesday, Feb. 15 — Virtual Zoom Meeting, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Feb. 22 — In Person Meetings, 8:30-9:30 a.m., Noon-1:00 p.m., 4-5 p.m
    Lorien Hotel & Spa, 1600 King Street, Alexandria
  • Wednesday, Feb. 22 — Virtual Zoom Meeting, 6:30-7:30 p.m.

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